One Big Thing Holding Up The Farm Bill Is An Obscure Catfish Program

House and Senate negotiators are still working on a conference report on the Farm Bill and there is a strange provision holding it up: catfish.

A bipartisan group of senators want to repeal the U.S. Department of Agriculture Catfish Inspection Program, Roll Call reports.

The program costs $US14 million a year and multiple Government Accountability Reports (GAO) say that it is unnecessary as catfish is a low-risk food. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already monitor catfish, as they do with all fish.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) have led the fight against it.

“The need to repeal the catfish program far outweighs whatever parochial reasons exist to prop up a small number of domestic catfish farmers,” McCain wrote in a letter yesterday. “If Farm Bill conferees are denied the opportunity to vote against this reckless and wasteful catfish program, please be assured that I will work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to legislatively terminate it at every opportunity.”

Foreign catfish producers – Vietnam in particular – believe the inspection program is functionally a trade barrier that gives domestic firms an advantage.

Of course, that’s exactly why those firms want the program to continue and have found support in Congress as well. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) is one proponent of the program, arguing that it is necessary on safety grounds.

The catfish program is not the only thing holding up the bill. For instance, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is determined to remove a controversial provision that regulates the production and price of dairy products, but has faced pushback as well.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Va.) has also pushed the idea of putting the savings in the bill towards extending emergency unemployment benefits for a year, although he wants to see the conference report first.

Negotiators are working quickly to try to resolve these differences after the Farm Bill expired at the start of the year. The main contention has been between Democrats and Republicans over how much to cut food stamps. The Senate-version of the bill included $US4 billion in cuts, while the House one cut the program by $US39 billion. The sides have reportedly settled at around $8 billion in cuts.

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